Nominations and Guidelines for the upcoming 2016 Hometown Community Hall of Fame will be posted before the end of 2015. Watch our Hometown Musings, eNewsletters.
We all have a “Best Mentor” and yours will be acknowledged with your nomination. It is exciting to remember all of the mentors who shaped our growing up and our character.
This will be FUN!
The Great Depression
By: Ken Ostrum
I was born in 1932, during the Great Depression. Many men were not able to find a job in those lean days of the Depression. Not everyone was as fortunate or perhaps as ambitious as my father, who was able to find some sort of work throughout his life. Paying jobs of any kind were scarce but Dad somehow found a way to get one. Work for him changed many times over the years. There was no unemployment compensation available at that time.
He was a lumberman, driving teams of horses from the time he was 11 or 12 years old, worked at local dynamite plants, a railroader, a forester, a look-out on the fire tower, a member of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), delivered mail, drove bread truck, worked on the highway with the Works Progress Administration (WPA); all of this to support a wife and 7 children plus other relatives now and then. Finally, during WWII, he worked at Sylvania Electric Products, a Receiving Tube manufacturer that had found its birth in our hometown of Emporium, PA. His last job there was cleaning filament machines from which he retired in 1958 at the age of 75.
During the depression, quite a few guys (at least I never saw a woman) would ride the rails and beg for food at people’s homes; they were very common in our area. We called them hobos or tramps or bums, interchangeably. Someone observed, perhaps facetiously:
“A hobo is a person who travels to find work.
A tramp is a person who travels and won’t work.
A bum is a person who won’t travel or work.”
We had all types of these come by our home. The main road ran right in front of our house at that time.
We didn’t usually know any details about an individual’s reasons for traveling around and begging. I’m sure it wasn’t always just because he didn’t have a job. No matter how young these guys were, as a kid I looked on them as “older” people but then again, at my age, anyone over eighteen seemed “old”. Reading about these people in later years, it turns out more than one quarter million teenagers also were living on the road in America in the Thirties; many criss-crossing the country by illegally hopping freight trains. These guys would show up mostly during the summer. They left the trains before they got into town, to evade rail police, and walked up and down the roads, stopping at any likely place to get a meal. They often marked homes with an “X” or other identifying means, to tell others where the good places were. I know we had a chalked “X” at the bottom of our steps on several occasions, since Mom was a soft touch. Sometimes they were given a meal and sent on their way, other times they would do a job and receive a meal as payment.
A hobo came by our place one day and came up the long flight of stone steps to our house. Bumpy, our dog, started barking and carrying on. Mom went out just as the hobo took a swing at the dog with a stick, to chase him away. Mom decided not to feed that hobo. The next year the same guy (Mom recognized him by his hat or clothing or something) came up to get food and this time he had a bandage on one foot and no shoe. Bumpy must have remembered him because he didn’t bark until the Hobo got to the top of the steps and then Bumpy grabbed him by the bad foot. Needless to say, there was one Hobo who didn’t get fed that time, either. One interesting side of all this is, hardly anyone worried about getting mugged or coming to harm of any kind. There were some things stolen but I never heard of anything flagrant happening in our area.
Summers During the Depression Meant Helping Our friends and Neighbors
During these lean times while growing up, besides doing our own small farm chores, we helped my Uncle Jim hay and pick up potatoes on his farm, all with no pay ‘cause he was our Uncle. We picked apples in the huge orchard across the road from Uncle Jim’s and Dad was allowed to keep some to store in our cellar over winter for our own use along with our own potato harvest and Mom’s shelves of canned peaches, pears, pickles, chicken, venison, and a myriad of vegetables.
We also did some work for others who were family friends. We could have just watched the haying being done by our neighbors on the flat in front of our house, but somehow Dad knew when it was time to send us down to help them load the hay wagons. We didn’t get paid for that work, either.
Now haying was an art at that time, none of the fancy machines they use today to complete a field in a few hours. The owners would mow the hay using a horse-drawn mower. Timing was of the essence because you wanted to mow the hay, let it lay for a period of time to dry, and then gather it in. Sunshine and fair days were hoped for, to assure a dry crop. Stowing damp hay in the barn could lead to spontaneous combustion and a disaster. If damp weather dictated after mowing, the field of hay was turned with pitchforks until it was dry enough and safe to make the trip to the barn.
Today, hay is gathered into bound bales, and loaded onto a truck. The hay is then stacked in piles in a storage area. In our more primitive time, a hay rake got everything going after the mowed hay was dry. The rake driver sat on a horse-drawn contraption with perhaps fifty curved steel tines; holding the lines in one hand and the dump lever handle in the other, he would rake hay until an acceptable amount was gathered and then he tripped the lever to leave the start of a windrow. Long windrows were created and then formed into haycocks to await the hayrack, a long, specially built wagon pulled by a large team of horses. A crew of four to six men (or in our case, men and boys) equipped with pitchforks were needed; two or three men on the ground pitched the hay onto the wagon as it traveled from haycock to haycock; the teamster and a helper positioned the hay on the wagon to insure a full load. I was built rather slight for pitching hay up to the wagon so I would usually be the one to climb on board to help position the hay; that meant a lot of moving hay around but mostly I had fun jumping all over the load to make it compact. When the hayrack (wagon) was loaded to capacity, we headed for the barn.
A heavy rope, already assembled, hung from a pulley bolted to the highest beam outside the opening into the haymow; one end of the rope was tied to a huge two-tined fork that weighed, probably 100 pounds or more; the other end was threaded through pulleys and hooked to a whiffletree on the opposite side of the barn which was then connected to the horse’s harness. By the way, for those who are wondering, and I know you are, whiffletree and whippletree are the same thing; it just depends on what area of the country you are in. Dad said whiffletree. Dad also told me the reins for a horse are those used with a riding horse whereas the ones used to drive a team were called lines.
Anyway, the big fork was dropped, freefall, about 20 feet to penetrate deep into the hay on the wagon. Pulling a cord would close the jaws to grab a huge fork-full of hay. Someone would walk the horse forward on the other side of the barn. The load was pulled high into the haymow where it was released by the man with the rope, at the spot it was needed, until the mow was filled to capacity.
With hay in the mow, playing in the barn was a great way to end a day after helping them load hay. Sometimes we climbed up into the rafters to jump into the hay. It seemed innocent enough. We never thought about the fact we might land on the rafter supports hidden by the hay. We could have broken bones or even broken our backs if we should happen to hit one.
One time, after delivering hay to the barn, I had a narrow escape.
To set the scene: We boys are playing a game of hide-and-seek at the barn. The owners are at lunch-break after we had delivered the loaded hay wagon from the fields and before it was unloaded. Being energy driven boys, we were bored and needed something to keep us busy, such as a game of Hide-and-Seek. After several “hiding” tries, I’m looking for a better place to hide from the guys. Suddenly the figurative lamp bulb went off in my head. “I know”, I thought to my stupid self; “I’ll hide in the wagon full of hay.” Dumb idea! It would have been a good place except for the fact that just as I got into position in the wagon, the owners picked that very time to return from lunch to unload the wagon. They didn’t have a clue I’m hiding in there and I didn’t know they’re back. When they dropped the huge 100 lb hayfork from that height of about 20 feet, it missed me by inches. It really scared me; actually it scared the heck out of me! I was out of that wagon in a flash! The two owners’ faces turned pale — then red as they got mad! They chased me half way home and I didn’t come back for quite a long time. That’s the kind of thanks you get for helping out friends!
World War II Begins – Japan Attacks Pearl Harbor!!
Horrible, everyone knew it was. Yet for me, as a kid, “It was the best of times”; at least that’s how I looked at it through my youthful eyes. For adults “it was the worst of times”. The attack came December 7, 1941, a month shy of my 10th birthday. The war didn’t mean that much to me then but within a couple years it became very clear as to how it would affect my life. Life would change, as I knew it. Between 1942 and 1945 all four of my brothers left for the service. But again, in my innocence, I thought that was great, too. I was very proud of them. Using Dad as a role model, our family had always been very patriotic. This was something they had to do for their country. The boys wrote home about their experiences and I was proud as a peacock. I had no concept of the dangers involved for all of them. No one in my immediate family had died during my lifetime so it was inconceivable something would happen to one of my brothers. Fortunately, all of them came home even though two of them went onto the beaches of France on D-Day.
I wished I could go to the service so I became a Boy Scout but then I had to wait until the war in Korea to serve my country.
The War Effort at Home
Adults were caught up in the rationing programs for shoes, gas, and various foods such as sugar, coffee, and meats of all kinds. “Meatless Tuesday” came to be the norm as Protestants joined Catholics in not eating meat on Fridays, which had been a Catholic tradition for many years. The regulation was changed later by the Pope to allow Catholics to eat meat on Friday. Victory gardens were promoted for all families but we already grew most of our own food so not much changed for us on that front.
As a Boy Scout, I helped in the collection of newspapers and magazines. We rode in big trucks; people had their newspapers and magazines bundled and ready when we picked them up at their homes.
In addition to Boy Scouts, just plain kids, boys and girls, helped in the war effort. Scrap metal was vital to the cause. After the war began, no car manufacturers were allowed to make new cars; their factories had to be used for military production. Whatever car you had at the beginning of the war, you were stuck with for the duration. Old cars were recycled all over the country; old cars were scrap and my family had several scrap cars.
The Local Movie Theatre sponsored scrap drives by offering tickets to those who brought in a required number of pounds of scrap. One of the free movies for scrap was National Velvet. The movie starred Elizabeth Taylor and it was all about her adventures trying to win a horse race. All the kids looked for scrap-metal anywhere we could and brought it to a designated collection point. Walking the railroad tracks was a good way to find rail spikes and discarded metal spike-plates to turn in. I found more scrap than was required so they gave me a free ticket. The movie was standing room only for every night the film showed.
For other scrap material we collected items we used at home. We saved tinfoil from discarded cigarette packs as well as chewing gum or candy tinfoil wrappers. We squeezed empty metal toothpaste tubes in the crack of a door to remove all the paste so the tubes could be recycled. Remember, there were no plastic items at that time.
People were asked to save tinfoil, tin, rubber bands, string and cord among other items. Oleo/margarine replaced butter (Mom still churned most of our butter for us but sometimes we bought oleo). The oleo was imitation butter so it was not allowed to be sold in the same color of butter. Oleo came in packages that looked like lard along with a yellow coloring packet that had to be mixed in, to make it look like butter.
Nylon stockings had just replaced silk hose for women and they become fashionable. Silk and nylon material was collected to make parachutes. Women painted their legs to look like they were wearing nylons; they even painted a dark stripe up the back of the bare leg to make it look like the seam of the nylons.
School kids went out to gather Pussy Willow (Milk Weed) pods. We spent hours picking the pods and putting them in burlap bags. Then they were collected and sent somewhere to a central point. The filling in the pods was used to make life jackets. They seemed to work as well as Kapok from the Kapok trees, which we didn’t have any of since they grow only in tropical countries.
Packaged cigarettes were hard to buy and were more expensive than “roll your own”. So I helped my brothers, when they were home, by rolling cigarettes for them, using a little machine. I put thin, special paper in the rollers, added tobacco from a pouch and pulled the rollers across each other to form a cigarette. Then I licked it to seal the paper. Strangely enough, I never smoked but that’s another story.
Anyone could save money for War Stamps that were traded in for a War Bond. I took small amounts of change to school where it was traded for War Stamps. After buying $16.75 worth of stamps they were traded for a War Bond. After ten years the bond would be worth $25.